This posting is an excellent article gleaned from Pr. Mark Surburg on the power of God’s Word to kill and make alive. Pr. Surburg recently started his own blog and has already published some excellent stuff there.
With the release of the pastoral letters and President Harrison’s most recent video (on WMLTblog.org), this is obviously not the time to pursue an involved discussion of the issues that have once again come to light as a result of the Sandy Hook interfaith service. However, I have received several very good questions from those who have read my post, “The Grief Ritual of American Civic Religion”. Having already responded to them in the online discussion in comment sections of blogs, I wish to briefly present those thoughts here.
Several readers have been correct when they have pointed out that in my piece I have described the use of God’s word from the perspective of the context in which it is employed, namely, the grief ritual of American civic religion. They have asked how this relates to the efficacy of God’s word. Does the position I have set forth deny that God’s word can accomplish what he desires? After all, Isa 55:10-11 says that God’s word does not return to him empty, but accomplishes that which he purposes. Even if the word of God is set side by side with a reading of the Koran in the setting of the grief ritual of American civic religion, isn’t it still possible for God to use that word to offer comfort and create faith?
This is the most common argument for interfaith services. It is an argument based on the efficacy of God’s word as a comforting and faith creating instrument. There are some very interesting observations to be made about the manner in which this misconstrues efficacy and the character of the word. It is a Gospel reductionist position, which assumes that efficacy of the word in the setting of crisis is only about Gospel and comfort.
However, God’s word is not only a word of Gospel. It is, of course, also a word of Law. It kills and it makes alive. And as a word that kills, it can’t be domesticated. Flowing from the Old Testament (2 Kg 18:20-40; Isa 44:9-20) into the New (Rom 1:18-25; 1 Cor 10:14-22) is a common theme in which Scripture allows no room for paganism. The polemic against paganism is constant because Scripture will allow no false god/s to be compared to the true God.
Scripture never presents God’s word as one that speaks along with other pagan voices. Instead, whenever the word comes into contact with paganism it kills it – it declares that it is false. In every setting where the proclamation of God’s word comes into contact with paganism, it attacks paganism such as in Acts 14:15; 15:29-31.
For this reason, it is not possible to construe God’s word and its efficacy only as Gospel when read in the setting of other pagan texts (or at any time for that matter). It is the very nature of God’s Word to attack all false gods. It runs counter to the very nature of God’s Word to presume that one can set it side by side with the Koran, etc in the trust that God will still “do his Gospel thing” while also allowing the pagan texts to speak with the claim of divine revelation. Where the proclamation of God’s Word comes into contact with this kind of paganism, it declares that the paganism is false and calls people to repentance.
This is a theme that I would like to develop at more length in the future when time has passed and we are further removed from the emotion of the last several weeks. I believe that any analysis of interfaith events must take into account both the context created by the ritual of American civic religion and also the character of God’s word as a word that kills paganism. God’s words is not patient of attempts to set it next to paganism as one voice among many. Instead, God’s word kills paganism so that it may give life through faith in the one true God – the triune God who has revealed himself in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.